I wonder if it's actually their own fault, in a way. Defense Department officials complain that the media spotlight on problems caused by military service, like PTSD, and our military and government's own inability to respond to those things, like the VA's claims backlog, is making recruiting markedly harder.
How can they find recruits if the image of service is so very tarnished?
"A lot of the media coverage of the military over the last 10 years has highlighted wounded warriors, sexual assault and some of the negative aspects of military service that, realistically, only a small part of the population may experience,” a DoD recruiting official says in this Tom Philpott column.
To convince qualified youth (read: high school graduates who aren't overweight and don't have a criminal record) to join the military and serve their country, recruiting officials have a bag of tricks, if you will.
Behold: The Post-9/11 GI Bill! Free money for education! Enlistment bonuses! Make more money if you get married! See the world!
The problem is that, at present, those tricks aren't working the way they have in the past. Tom's story gives all the data on the subject.
And do you know why?
In my mind, it's not because "the media" talks too much about the challenges the current force faces. Our veterans and military families deserve every single story that highlights their battles and puts pressure on officials to shape up or ship out. Every. Single. Story.
Here's what I think: we aren't teaching our kids to value service.
Yes, a bag of tricks is helpful. If we want to maintain an all-volunteer force we need to make service worth it in a way. It has to pay for itself, it has to feed your family and it has to leave you with some longterm value.
But it can't all be about the cash or the benefits. It has to be a little bit about doing something because you want to sacrifice, because you want to serve.
It has to be a little bit about love of country. It has to be a little bit about the desire to protect and defend, no matter the cost.
The act of service itself must have value beyond the cash it puts in your pockets. And for that to happen people must be taught to see it.
Inflating the value and perks of joining the military by pretending those other things aren't huge problems, even if they do happen to "only a small part of the population?"
Downplaying the very real issues the current force and families are experiencing? Pretending that every single one of them isn't worth the airtime they are getting?
I don't have a solution or method to teach young people the value of service except to demonstrate and communicate it to my own children and those with whom we come in contact by doing our best to live beyond ourselves.
But I do know that this isn't a novel idea. The greatness of our nation is made up of the many people who throughout history put higher-paying, more glamorous jobs on hold, rolled-up their sleeves and did the hard work of freedom. Why? Because their nation deserved it and their conscience demanded it.
So how do we make sure that trend continues?